Matthew 27:1-26 Part 6


As you can see from what we’ve just read, we do have some new text this morning… but we still have some work to do in verses twenty to twenty-six.  So for those reading later, let me just say that, even though we may enter in to the verses beginning with twenty-seven this morning, this sermon is counted as part six of verses one through twenty-six.  Most of our time today will be spent there.

When we left off last time Pilate had received a note from his wife which had put immense pressure on him in the midst of this very tense situation.  And we dealt with that note in some specifics.

But in the providence of God our Lord stood before Israel and the nations of the world “rejected of men” and abandoned of God.  Judged outside any law, beaten, humiliated and mocked, Jesus Christ (the Lamb of God) was led silently to the slaughter.  He had “set His face torward the cross”; and all He did was in obedience to His Father’s will.

And all that happened to Him was to His detriment and to His abandonment (in order to pay for the death and cursing of mankind) – even such things as this note from Pilate’s wife!  What temptation and suffering it must have caused Him when this pagan woman attempted to free Him from the course to which He had set Himself!  It reminds us again that there are no trials (or temptations) of men that our Lord did not suffer Himself.  And there is great comfort for us in that.

On each and every occasion in which we are tempted, and our faith put to the test, it is there for us to remember that our Lord was tested in every way that we are – yet without sin.  There is no testing that He hasn’t already been through… there is no suffering that He hasn’t already suffered.

It reminds me of a story of one of the great men of the faith in our more recent history.  In his early years he was serving in the military, and he once became so despondent because he felt so abandoned and so spiritually destitute.  He couldn’t understand why he was without any comfort of the Spirit.  It was as if God had withdrawn from him and left him alone.

After suffering the feelings of abandonment for a long time, he remembered the Word of God (concerning the suffering of the Christ), and he remembered the promises of God with regard to His providential care of all of His people.  And this man knew then that even in his agony of testing and aloneness and abandonment, God had already spoken to him (in His Word) concerning His sufficiency.  And even if he didn’t “feel” the presence of The Spirit, it was enough.

Now, in our text (at verse twenty), at the time when this note from Pilate’s wife was being delivered and read and considered by the governor, the priests and elders of Israel were out among the rest of the crowd “persuading” them to ask for Barabbas – and to destroy Jesus!

Remember that these people were all “related’ somehow to the leaders of Israel.  They were temple guards and other temple employees and assistants to the elders and relatives and trainees and students; and all, to one degree or another, dependant upon these leaders for their places in life!

The text indicates that the priests and elders “circulated” among the crowd; and they were successful in persuading their charges to vote their way!

The evangelist Mark says that they “stirred up” or “incited” the crowd.  And all these people submitted to their authorities and received their instruction.

In verse twenty-one, having read his wife’s note, and having given this whole process a sufficient amount of time, Pilate (thinking that he had sufficiently directed the choice by associating Jesus with this hardened criminal) puts the question to the crowd:  “Who do you wish I should release to you?”

The process is over; and it’s time for the answer.  And it was stunningly unanimous!  The entire crowd said “Barabbas!”  Verse twenty-two isn’t to be interpreted as a “matter-of-fact” question as to what is to be done with Jesus; but it is to be seen in the light of the pitiful creature to which Pilate has been reduced!

The verse indicates Pilate’s shock at hearing the crowd’s unanimous choice.  At this point Pilate is no judge… no matter that there’s already been a verdict, now there is no verdict… there is no enforcement of his former ruling.  Israel’s leaders have held out to the end, and Pilate has yielded, more and more, to them; and now he has completely surrendered.

And his question about what should be done with Jesus reveals his helplessness:  “What shall I do with Jesus Who is called ‘Christ’?  The ‘ANOINTED ONE’…!  What shall I do with Jesus Who is called the Anointed One?

And the crowd (aware that Jesus was replacing a condemned criminal) was aroused by Pilate’s question; and sensing the level to which the governor had been reduced there was a unanimous shout:  “Let Him be crucified!”  They had him now.  Pilate was groveling.  And they rose to the occasion!  Pushing him… cornering him….

Now, the question arises as to why these Jews demanded crucifixion!  These were priests and elders and pharisees and scribes and all of their attendants….  They knew the law.  They knew better than all others that the historical method of execution of a condemned Jew in Israel was public stoning!

But the answer is simple.  Even though Jesus had been convicted of blasphemy in His lawless trial before Caiaphas, when they took Him to Pilate the charges were changed to crimes against the Roman state.  In effect they had turned Him over to Pilate for execution.  And they had manipulated Pilate into a position in which he had no choice!

Israel had been denied the privilege of executing it’s own without permission… there was no death penalty except by decree of the Roman representative.  So the leaders of Israel had taken the high ground on the side of Roman law and used it against Pilate to get what they wanted.

Here in verse twenty-three we see the spectacle of the supreme Roman judge in Israel lowering himself to such a degree that the accusers dictate the verdict!  Pilate is actually “whining”.  Instead of ruling, Pilate is pleading with the accusers!

“Why?  What has He done?  What evil thing did He do to justify His being executed?”  And Pilate’s pleading and whining was a trigger for a renewed frenzy!  The crowd knew that Pilate had been beaten and reduced to nothing.  The rule of the law was gone; the supreme judge was vacillating all over the place; the representative of the Roman empire was cowering and whimpering!

Pilate could have cleared the palace of Jews by one word to the cohort of six hundred soldiers.  But by now the crowd was agitated to the point of continuous shouting… “Let Him be crucified!”  And Pilate was way beyond his courage to do anything about it.

He saw (verse twenty-four) that a great tumult was rising – something that was scary and threatening – and something that he could not afford to happen here in Israel during the festival.  He had lost; and he gave up.

And once more he attempts to shift the blame for the torturous death of an innocent Man off of himself and over to the Jews.  And, right there in the midst of the crowd, he calls for a container of water and washes his own hands and proclaims his own innocence!

Now, the washing (or baptism) of the hands in water is a symbolic act of cleansing in order to give the impression of guiltlessness (as if the outward act could cleanse the inside!).

A tradition had arisen in Israel (a pharisaical one) from the Scriptures of Deuteronomy chapter twenty-one, where God had instructed Israel to baptize its hands over a slain heifer when a man was found murdered… and no one saw who did it.

This was a ceremonial cleansing of God’s people where there had been the shedding of blood and eye-witnesses were not available to bring justice.  Since the people had to be cleansed, and the land had to be cleansed (since a murder had been committed), God had given Israel a ceremonial cleansing which (ironically) foreshadowed the coming of the Anointed One Who now stood before Pilate!

But over the generations (as was the case with all of God’s Law) the pharisaical interpretations of the Law had perverted it to such a degree that the ceremony was used, traditionally, as a means of publicly proclaiming one’s own innocence!

Now, even though there are hundreds of eye-witnesses to the gross injustice to God’s Messiah, Pilate now uses the pharisaical tradition to his own benefit.  This traditional perversion of God’s Law-word is used by Pilate to justify himself – even though he (and, by representation, all of Gentile civilization) is guilty of injustice – and death of the Son of God!  In other words, the judge excused himself from guilt by use of the ceremonial Law of God – in public spectacle!

“He himself washed his hands right in the presence of the crowd”… is the sense of the text here in verse twenty-four.  And he pronounces himself “innocent” – free of guilt, free of penalty.  And we need to see here that he does this with great finality and great leadership and courage!  The ruling in favor of himself is vigorous and strong… where before, with justice on the line with Jesus, he was weak and vacillating!

“I am innocent of the blood of this One.”  A strong ruling!  A pronouncement of justice!  A ruler’s decision… leadership.  (All where he, himself, is concerned, of course.)

While we’re here let me just make mention of the fact that some very strong manuscript evidence indicates that Pilate might have used the term “Just” with reference to Jesus here.  (His wife had used the term in her note.  She said, “Have nothing to do with this ‘Just’ Man.)  These manuscripts have it that Pilate said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just One.”  (Since I wrote the text for you I am leaning more strongly to the position that it ought to be there.  Some of the older and more well-preserved manuscripts omit it; but it isn’t always the case that the older the manuscript – the better the text.)

There’s also the argument that many copiers may have augmented the texts (trying for clarity); and that the simpler and less “wordy” texts are probably the best.  That would argue for the omission of the word as well.  But it isn’t always the case that the less wordy texts are the best ones.

The fact that several important manuscripts include the word “just”, and the fact that Pilate’s wife has just used the word with reference to Jesus, makes me lean more toward its inclusion.

And if Pilate did say that, he has pronounced Jesus innocent again… blameless in the eyes of God and man!  And how then could Pilate remand Him to death?  And then expect to be regarded as innocent himself due to a perverted symbolic act!!

But he does it (a true, spineless chameleon that changes his color according to the situation)!  After washing his hands he says, “I’m innocent.  It’s not me.  Let it be known that this is your doings.  He’s innocent, and I’m not to blame for His death!”

And in a demonical rage (verse twenty-five) the priests, elders, scribes, pharisees – all the leaders of Israel (and their servants and assistant and guards) – unanimously and covenantally take the blood of God’s Messiah off the hands of Pilate and load it upon themselves and their children!

In order to secure the death of the Man, they all joyfully and unanimously assumed the guilt… for any and all the justice and wrath and punishment that might come; and they assumed it – not only for themselves, but – for their children as well.  In order to get the governor’s consent (the end justifies the means, you see), they relieve the governor of guilt; and they take upon themselves what they might consider “meaningless” consequences!

There are many things that could be said about this.  But it is certainly true that a large group of people will take upon itself much more than will a smaller group – or an individual.  If the guilt is spread around, then it isn’t so bad (that’s the thinking).  If we’re all in the same condition, then the consequences (whatever they are) are “weakened” by our great numbers.

So what we see here are misapprehensions of safety based on the fact that the crowd is large and the fact that the people involved are the eminent leaders of Israel.  So, all things considered, why would there ever be any consequences?!!

The next thing that needs to be said here about this is that none of this erases Pilate’s guilt in the eyes of God.  As the ruler of Israel, and as the representative of Rome, and as the representative of Gentile civilization, a gross injustice was performed on his watch!  And God’s Messiah was put to death!  His perverted use of the ceremonial law doesn’t bind God whatsoever where Pilate is concerned.

Even though the guilt was not as great as that laid upon Israel, the consequences of Pilate’s spineless “situational ethics” redound to all men!  As we are all guilty and cursed in Adam, so, in similar ways, we Gentiles are all guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ!

Thirdly, we must say that God may honor the request for guilt if He so chooses!  And He may do so on generation after generation of children – if He so chooses!  It so happens that God has heard the oath that Israel’s leaders made before God and before Pilate; and He has honored that oath now for some sixty generations!  That’s two thousand years that the blood of Christ has been imputed to them and to their children – at their own insistence!

There was an elect remnant of Jews who belonged to God then; and there have been a few down through the centuries who have evidenced their election.  But this self-inflicted curse is now evidenced by two thousand years of Christ-less chaos!

In the seventh decade of the first century Jews were separated from the covenant promises of God.  Without pity… without mercy… they are left without Christ to this day.  And we have not yet seen the mass repentance and “re-grafting” of this people into the covenant (of which the apostle Paul speaks in Romans eleven).

They have been slaughtered by the millions; they are scattered all over the world; they are inbred with every other people of the world.  And even though they have a separate nation now (since the 1940s) they are surrounded on every side by those who detest their very existence… by Chaldeans, by Persians, by Syrians, by Egyptians; they are giving their land back to the Canaanites (Palestinians); they are ruled by secular pagans, and their theological and ecclesiastical leaders are still hunting among themselves for the Messiah!

They have only one friend in the world – the United States (which has shielded them to some degree from the continual wrath of God).

And should God continue to honor their request for Jesus’ blood to be upon them and their children (as He historically has in the past two thousand years), we can expect to see even more consequences.

In verse twenty-six, as a result of the Jewish leaders accepting all responsibility for the blood of Christ, Pilate released Barabbas; and then scourged Jesus and turned Him over to be crucified (i.e. he turned Him over to the soldiers – not to the Jews).

As you can see, Matthew did not describe the scourging.  But he does describe (beginning with verse twenty-seven) the mocking and the continued beating of Jesus before He was crucified.  That we will have to wait for until next time.


“Yet it pleased Jahveh to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief; when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed.  He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of Jahveh shall prosper in His hand.  He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied:  by the knowledge of Himself shall My Righteous Servant justify many; and He shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He poured out His soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  Yet He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”


We are all transgressors; and the guilt of His crucifixion is entered in to the complete account of our deep sin and iniquity.  But, as Isaiah said, He was made an offering for sin so that God would be satisfied.  And He even intercedes before the Father on our behalf.  Having so suffered because of us, He now pleads for us – on behalf of us.

That many won’t believe Him and love Him only attests to the depth of our depravity and the hardness of our hearts.  But Jesus’ call to men now is the same as when He called together the elect remnant of Israel:  “Come unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give your rest.  My yoke is easy and My burden… light….”


The apostle Peter, after preaching the resurrection of the crucified Lord, said, “Repent in the Name of Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”  And it is the same now.  Repent.  You turn yourself and believe; and you’ll find that His yoke is, indeed, light.